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Can You Sue Your Employer For Workplace Stress?

Many people have challenging jobs and feel certain pressures due to work. However, if that pressure increases to the point that you are suffering from physical or emotional ailments such as anxiety, depression, alcoholism or other adverse reactions, then you are likely being subjected to much more than just typical job-related challenges.

Excessive workplace stress can become a serious threat to your health. According to recent research by Harvard and Stanford Business Schools, problems stemming from workplace stress such as hypertension, decreased mental health and cardiovascular disease can kill about 120,000 people each year.

No one should be subjected to a work environment that needlessly causes their health to decline. But can you actually sue your employer for workplace stress? This article will help you understand the causes of job-related stress and how your employee rights may be protected under California and federal employment laws.

Understanding Workplace Stress and Your Employee Rights

What is stress in the workplace?

Workplace stress can be defined as any harmful physical or emotional response that can happen on the job – specifically, when conflict appears in between workplace demands and the amount of control a worker has in order to meet demands. Stress can occur when an employee has a low amount of control over the high demands an employer may place upon them.

Stress in the workplace may come from an isolated incident or a few stressful events. Some common causes of workplace stress include:

  1. When an employee fears being laid off in an uncertain economy;
  2. Increased employer demands for overtime due to staff cutbacks;
  3. Job redundancy;
  4. When an employee feels pressure to meet rising expectations without an increase in job satisfaction;
  5. When an employee doesn’t feel physically or emotionally safe while working;
  6. When relationships with co-workers are strained; or when an employee suffers from workplace bullying or harassment.

These job-related stressors, as well as others, can take a toll on employees and cause lack of motivation, illness, anxiety, depression, absenteeism, alcoholism and even death if the stress is suffered long-term.

How to Handle Workplace Stress

Once you begin feeling the negative effects of workplace stress, you should speak to your employer or HR department. They should offer ways to help you alleviate needless stress on the job dependent on the cause of your stress. For example, you could request flexible working hours, ask for more decision-making duties to have more control over your own work, or request better communications from your employer and have them set clearer expectations.

So, can I sue my employer for workplace stress?

Under both California and federal employment laws, workers are protected from undue stress, harassment, negligence and unsafe working environments. So, yes you can sue your employer for workplace stress under certain circumstances. Generally, if the stress is due to ordinary workplace incidents such as a demanding supervisor, long hours, or difficult co-workers, you can bring a work-induced stress claim to the worker's compensation system. If, however, stress is due to unlawful harassment or discrimination, you may have a claim under state or federal law, such as the California Fair Employment and Housing Act.

Additionally, if you are suffering from stress due to workplace bullying, you should first check your employer’s workplace bullying policy on the actions you can take to combat the issue internally. At times, however, workplace bullying can be unlawful when you are harassed due to a protected characteristic such as your age, race, disability, national origin, religion or gender.

How to Sue for Workplace Stress in California

If you speak to your employer or HR department about your stressful working environment, and they are unwilling to remove the cause or take action to alleviate job-related stressors, you should contact an employment attorney who can help you file a complaint with either the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Workplace Stress: Additional Resources

  • Can I Sue for a Stressful Work Environment? via Better Without Burnout
  • Who’s Liable for Stress on the Job? via Harvard Business Review
  • Workplace Stress via The American Institute of Stress
  • Workplace Stress & Anxiety Disorders Survey via ADAA.org

Everyone deserves to work in an environment that is free from unnecessary physical and emotional stress. If you feel your California employer is violating your employee rights, contact the passionate employment attorneys at Hennig Ruiz for a free consultation.